West Texas is flat. Really flat. And treeless. It’s easy to imagine thousands of buffalo roaming the plain, or tornadoes barreling across the horizon. Amidst all this flat emptiness, it’s tough to believe there’s a canyon anywhere close by.
But there is a canyon, and it’s the second largest canyon in the country.
This past weekend some friends and I camped in Palo Duro Canyon in preparation for our trail race there in October.
Jay loved camping in his new tent. Because of it’s McMansion dimensions compared to the other two tents, it was quickly dubbed “The McTent.”
Some places in the country have snow drifts. In West Texas, we have mud. Flash flood warning signs are everywhere in the park. It’s obvious Palo Duro had a significant rain event in the canyon sometime before we got there.
But it wasn’t as significant as the rain and flooding they had there in 1978.
Though not deadly, spiders as big as your hand are nevertheless scary. There are tarantulas in the park. Supposedly they jump.
Looking for evidence of other animals in the canyon is easy in the soft sand. Other than these raccoon tracks, we saw other evidence of deer, hogs, coyotes, and lizards.
It was extremely hot during the day in the canyon. 114 degrees was the highest we saw. We had been hoping to have cooler temps, but at least it was cool in the mornings and evenings.
Even Shasta felt the heat.
To avoid the intense sun, we stayed under our shade shelter and played Uno, Monopoly, read, snacked, and played with the dogs.
Hari is like the overindulgent grandparent when it comes to Shasta.
Kurt braved the elements and went for a ride.
One morning we got up before the sun and went for an eleven mile trail run on the Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail. It was the best trail run I’ve ever been on. It was exhilarating to run through such amazing scenery.
Our trail took us to the Lighthouse formation, which is an iconic Texas landmark.
Hari and I took a break at the top of the Lighthouse. Kurt took photos.
The trail winds through the canyon. We had it to ourselves for hours.
We took the Little Fox Canyon Trail loop for a few extra miles. It was starting to get warm, but it was nothing like the humidity we’re used to running in.
Tired, dusty, trail legs after a run are never pretty. Even Jay was impressed enough to take a photo.
Our last morning, Kurt and I got up once again before the sun and took a short 3.5 mile hike on the Rojo Grande and Juniper Trails. I love the desert light in the early mornings.
West Texas is a dangerous place. On the way back to Dallas, even stopping at a rest area (which also doubles as a tornado shelter) can be treacherous.
It was a great trip. From the coyotes howling in the middle of the night, to the full moon rising over the ridge, to the turquoise blue collared lizard I thought was a bird, and the Milky Way and Big Dipper stretching across the night sky, Palo Duro Canyon is beautiful. And of course, everything is more fun with good friends. I can’t wait to go back in October for the trail race.
Lighthouse trail run photos courtesy of Kurt Cimino.
During our week of camping in the Tetons, followed by my daughter’s wedding, we were audience to the continually changing beauty of the Tetons. I wanted to post a few photos of the Tetons, to show how different they looked at various times of day, but rather than just “a few,” decided to post all of the best photos.
After unzipping the tent each morning, the Tetons were always my first sight. It became a game each morning to discover how the mountains would look that first hour of the day.
The afternoons were very warm, and the sunshine at altitude was intense. Everyone got sunburned the first day within the first hour. Each afternoon seemed to bring dramatic weather, with winds and dark clouds, though many times the rain never hit the ground.
The evenings were simply gorgeous. Each evening was different from the one before, depending on the clouds and colors. Our first night there, the Milky Way arced across the sky like a white rainbow.
There are places in the world that feel like home even if you’ve never lived there. Places that feel immediately familiar, where your shoulders relax and you sigh deeply. Places that deeply touch some part of your soul and beg you to stay. Places you yearn for when you’re away. Places where you don’t have to be anything other than who you are.
For me, that place is Wyoming.
I’ve traversed America countless times to return to Wyoming. Each time is like a homecoming.
On a flight to Oregon once we flew directly over eastern Wyoming. It’s expansive nothingness was unmistakable. I looked out the window and thought, “My heart is down there.”
I don’t think I’ve ever said anything more true.
For years, my family made summer road trips to Montana and Wyoming. My daughter worked as a park ranger in Yellowstone, then a geologist in Jackson Hole. This summer we returned for her wedding overlooking the Tetons.
On our first trips, Wyoming seemed so far away. Two full days of driving with two bored kids in the backseat almost didn’t seem worth it. The fights, the restlessness, the boredom. But once we got out of Texas (which is over nine hours of the entire trip), and the drive became more scenic, even the kids couldn’t complain too much.
Nowadays we avoid Colorado and sacrifice mountain views for the easy, monotonous drive through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. I ponder the emigrants of the 1800’s walking through these arid places, following their wagons, ready to start a new life. I wonder what it would have been like to be a woman, coming to such a place and raising a family.
This year we drove up through southern Utah, another place I think of as home. Still clinging to our stressful, fast paced city lives, we were anxious to reach Wyoming and help with wedding preparations, and made no stops in Utah. It was tough to drive past Canyonlands and Arches and not enter the parks. For me, southern Utah and the four corners area is like the center of the world, and if there is such a thing as “sacred space,” it is found in Utah.
Regardless of which direction we enter Wyoming, I’m in love the moment we cross the state line. From the lonely, empty landscapes of the east, to the mountains of the west, it’s all magical to me. The sky is huge and never remains the same. Weather changes are dramatic and sudden.
We camped on Shadow Mountain, across the valley and overlooking the Teton mountains. We camped five nights on forest service land, and I couldn’t have been happier. We had only planned on camping three nights, but the choice between a hotel room and sleeping outdoors was an easy one. Despite a fire ban, which meant no evening campfires, every minute spent on the mountain was priceless.
My daughter was married there.
The Tetons wear a different face every morning. Its face changes throughout the day. It’s fascinating to watch those changes. I could never grow tired of the view.
One could sit for a lifetime on Shadow Mountain and grow old, watching the changes sweep across the mountains, and know that despite the changes, nothing really changed at all. This is the mountains’ greatest lesson.
I used to think of Wyoming as being someplace far, far removed from my Texas life. It isn’t. Even if I never physically live there, I will always carry it’s songs and pictures in my heart.
When I’m back in Dallas, in my air conditioned house trying to escape the 100+ degree temperatures outside, I can close my eyes and imagine myself standing before the Tetons. I know all the roads that will take me there. I imagine one long road, a tether, an umbilical cord, between myself and the mountains. I know that at any moment, if my everyday life ever becomes too overwhelming or artificial, all I have to do is start driving.
I’ll be there soon enough.
The other night I had a dream about a grizzly bear. Anytime a grizzly bear shows up in my life, even if it’s merely a dream, I sit up and take notice.
A few weeks ago I read a blog post about grizzlies, and this morning Michael sent me a link to an article about a woman who survived a grizzly attack.
The power of the grizzly beckons and wants to be noticed.
One of my favorite blogs is Off the Beaten Path: Hikes, Backpacks, and Travels. The author is living the life I’ve always wanted to live. She writes about living in Montana and of the travels and sights her and her husband have seen, mostly out west. Michael and I have talked very seriously about selling our house, buying an RV, and traveling the western parks. If I had my choice, I’d settle down somewhere in Montana or Wyoming in my little RV and never look back.
Off the Beaten Path wrote a great post a few weeks ago about backpacking in grizzly country and her fear of a seeing a grizzly. It reminded me of my own grizzly encounter in Yellowstone.
Shortly after I met Michael four years ago, I mentioned to him that I was driving up to Yellowstone in a month. My daughter, a geologist who lived in Jackson Hole at the time, was flying down to visit us in Texas and we would make a mother-daughter road trip back up to Wyoming. I don’t know what possessed me, but I boldly told Michael he should fly up and see Yellowstone with me, that it would change his life.
I met him at the Jackson Airport a month later.
While we were in Yellowstone, towards the end of our stay, we wanted to take an all day hike off the main tourist trails. We chose a trail in the vicinity of West Thumb and Yellowstone Lake and drove over from our campground. When we gathered our gear and walked up to the trail head, however, we were stopped by a sign stating the trail was closed due to “bear activity in the area,” but that it would open up the very next day. Michael assured me that hiking one day early would be okay.
I hesitated. My daughter had been a park ranger in Yellowstone for several summers before she found full-time work in Jackson Hole. I had heard many stories of dumb tourists and their disregard of the park rules–sometimes with deadly consequences. I had also been a teacher for many years and following the rules was ingrained in my psyche.
I had a really bad feeling about going on that trail. Other than my guilt at not following the rules, it just didn’t feel right. I felt very, very strongly that we shouldn’t take that hike.
I told Michael I wanted to use the restroom before starting off, and headed over to the port-a-let. It was mostly just an excuse to buy myself some time. I came out and told him I didn’t want to hike the trail, that maybe we could find another one, apologizing for my timidity and trying to explain my hesitation.
We got back in the car and turned around to reverse. Just as we started to back up, a grizzly came sauntering out of the trees, not ten feet from the car.
Even in the car, I was scared. I’ve seen quite a few grizzlies from a distance, but never one even remotely this close. They are massive, with long claws–and despite their size, they’re fast. I was glad we had the protection of the car, but kept the motor running and the car in drive.
The grizzly ignored us as she went about eating vegetation in the parking lot. We were the only ones there, and felt honored to be able to be so close to such an impressive animal. We sat and watched her for a long time, and Michael took a ton of photos.
This experience only reinforced the certainty for me that I never want to see a grizzly on a hike, up close and personal. I’ve been on several hikes in the past where people have passed us on the trail and excitedly asked: Did you see the bear?!? My answer has always been the same: No, and I don’t want to see the bear!
I was so glad I listened to my intuition and we hadn’t gone on that trail.
We drove a ways and found another perfect hike to the top of Sepulcher Mountain–and we didn’t see a bear all day.